Of rocks and “rolls”…

poppin_fresh_pillsbury_doughboy copyright Pillsbury

Oh, drat, a rock in the toe of my Tevas!   Occupational hazard when you’re walking on a street in the foothills in the desert. But instantly a thought flashed into my consciousness, a thought of all the people of old who walked deliberately with a rock in their shoes where it would hurt the most to show God their penitence and piety, to do penance for their sins. I thought of the people I’ve read and heard about who crawled on their hands and knees to a shrine, arriving bloody to show God how sorry they were for things they’d done. And just as quickly I thought of the scornful taunts Jesus endured, the crown of thorns on his head, 39 lashes of the whip that Jesus took for me, the nails in his wrists and feet, the spear through his heart. Who in the world would I think I was to think anything I could do to cause myself pain could in ANY way add to or make more sufficient what Jesus did for me?

Before I throw any of those stones in my shoe at those people, though, Lord knows, and the Lord does know, how quick I am to self-flagellate with regrets, “if only’s,” all too conscious of the mistakes I’ve made even inadvertently. It’s a twisted form of pride masquerading as humility, and it does God absolutely no honor at all for the ALL-SUFFICIENT sacrifice He made for me through Jesus.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:1-10 NIV

https://youtu.be/XgjJ_CR9oEY

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

 as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

 for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

 The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field; 

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts. Psalm 103: 8-18 NIV

 

 

Jesus told us to go make disciples, not penance:

 

 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20 NIV

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give…. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10: 6-8, 42 NIV

THAT is my reverence, that is my response, that is my job description now. Soo …I sensibly, gratefully took off my shoe, shook out the pebble, and thought about the responses God does want from me for his freely given totally all-sufficient gift of forgiveness. Stones? I could sweep them from my neighbor’s sidewalk. I could buy some new tennis shoes for a child who has to walk barefoot to school. Crawl on my knees? I could gladly bend down and reach under my car to get the ball the neighbor kids accidentally rolled onto my driveway.

Give a cup of cold water? Here is where the rubber meets the road, the gratitude and freedom sets me truly free. I could take a jug of ice water down to the homeless people in the park, hand out cups of cold water, say, “In Jesus’ name I bring you this water,” as if I, the blessed, was stooping down to them, the oppressed, out of my own magnanimity, and think I’d fulfilled righteousness – but that would be just another disguised stone in my shoe. In truth and honestly, you know what I’ve learned in the last five months? That wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all … unless I sat down with those people, looked them in the eye, asked their names, understood their heartaches and frustrations and their own perhaps deeply held self-condemnation, listened to their stories, ate one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d brought with them as I listened, held their hands and prayed with the ones who wanted prayer.

Now, lest you think I am being “holier than thou” here, let me hasten to admit it took me over 50 years to come to this realization. Yes, I pick up math pretty quickly, but in some of the things of God, I’m a terribly slow learner. Fifty years ago I went with the other junior high and high school girls in our World Friendship Girls group, the junior version of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at our church to the Wesley Center downtown. We’d spent weeks blowing out dozens of eggs, dying the shells, filling them with confetti and gluing crepe paper frills on top to make cascarones for people at the center to give out as prizes in the game booths at their fund-raising fall fair. But did I ever strike up a conversation with any of the girls at the center? Yes we put on an overnight slumber party for the girls, but did I ever get the phone number of a girl so I could talk to her again or take her to the movies with me sometime?

It took me over 50 years to finally get it that God wanted me to sit down with Harlan and Betty in the park, learn who they are, treat them as equals, laugh with them, and pray for them as we ate together. I am a slow learner, but I hope, like “Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy,” or rather like “Little Poppy,” I’m still soft and pliable enough in God’s hands, even at my advanced age, for the Lord to poke me in the belly sometimes. When he does, I hope I can and will giggle, or at least smile, that God is still concerned about me and loves me enough to keep conforming me more to his heart, his compassion, his truth, his passions, what matters to his heart.

I guess I’m not “done” yet ….

https://youtu.be/RnpoD0hlqpQ “The Scandal of Grace”

 

Grace, what have you done?

Murdered for me on that cross

Accused in absence of wrong

My sin washed away in your blood

Too much to make sense of it all

I know that your love breaks my fall

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

Death, where is your sting?

Your power is as dead as my sin

The cross has taught me to live

In mercy, my heart now to sing

The day and its trouble shall come

I know that your strength is enough

The scandal of grace, you died in my place

So my soul will live

And it’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of you, Jesus

It’s all because of your love

And my soul will live

Chorus:

Oh to be like you

(To) Give all I have just to know you

Jesus, there’s no one besides you

Forever the hope in my heart

 

Any rocks you need to shake out of your shoe today?

Need a loving poke in your belly? God, our Father God, gladly, kindly will.

 

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Father God, loving Lord, I see now that I’ve held onto shame, guilt, regret over _______________________________ BUT you truly, absolutely, forever removed that from me when Jesus took it upon himself. Jesus, I won’t minimize what you did for me by trying to ”make up for it” by my own actions, so God, I will thankfully, gladly let you _________________________________________________ in me, through me, for me. yes, please poke me in the belly when I need to be more pliable and ____________________________. I know I’m not ”done” yet, so Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________. In Jesus’ name, make it so, amen!

 

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“Leave your table looking like …”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(No, I am not scolding him; I’m actually praying a blessing on each child)

Reward, success and insight come in the  strangest places.

In the third week one of my least favorite jobs, I listened to the assistant principal decisively tell the room full of fifth graders that if they didn’t clean up their table and sweep the floor after their lunch period,before the sixth graders came in, they’d be sitting in his office. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and I thought, “I’d better find another way to inspire these kids  or it’s  going to be a very, very long semester for us all.” I give the Holy Spirit credit for the  thought that came to me. I began going table to table, cheerfully and positively telling the boys, “You’re young men of valor,courage, integrity, commitment, teamwork, strength, and honor. I know you want to leave your table looking like a man of that true strength was sitting here,” and to the girls, I said, “You’re beautiful young women of honor, virtue, strength, courage, compassion and kindness. I know you want to leave your table looking like that kind of  beautiful woman was sitting here.”

Completely puzzled looks met me, but I simply smiled and moved to the next table,and  repeated the process for every grade level that came into the multi-purpose room for lunch. One eighth-grade  girl had the surprised confidence to respond, “Miss Jackson, nobody ever talks to us like that!”

“Well, I’m going to tell you that until you believe it!” I  replied,  and her face lit up. Encouraged, I repeated the process for the rest of the week, for fun throwing in situations to the boys like, “You’re the pit crew, and you want to take care of  this ‘car’ and leave the pit ready for the next crew, looking like dedicated, capable,  smart, honorable men were just here,”and similar  girl-themed situations for the girls. Table after table, boys raised their hands and asked if they could be pit boss, and girls asked if they could be the head attendant at the coronation.

For three weeks,  grade by grade, twenty-minute lunch period by  period, I repeated character affirmations to the girls and boys, young men and women, from fourth grade up to seniors in high school, and in those three weeks, something wonderful happened: children started asking me for the rags, spray bottles, and brooms.  No threats of detention, no raised voice, no wagging  finger, just an affirming call to be someone higher, greater, and to have the power to lead by a servant-hearted example of true strength and grace. The assistant principal was surprised by how clean the room and tables were, I was enormously glad  that my venture worked, the students  felt good about themselves, and even more importantly and delightfully, I began to develop good relationships  with quite a few of the children.

It occurred to me at the same time that I was also telling myself something important about myself, as well as others: this is precisely what Father God wants for us and from us as His  children: to conduct  ourselves in such a way that  we leave our corners of the world looking like women of inner beauty, valor, value, honor, strength, kindness and compassion were “sitting here,”and men of courage,  strength, integrity, commitment, teamwork,  and honor were “sitting here.”

There was not time and no place in the multi-purpose room for, “It’s not my job. Oooh! That’s yucky! I don’t want to. Somebody else can.” May I propose that there is no time and no place in our  families, friendships, relationships, work associations, neighborhoods, churches, cities or world  for those kinds of self-centered, self-serving, weak, uncaring, and flatly irresponsible attitudes either. God may not call us into his “office” or wag his finger in our  faces, but we can be assured of  this certainty the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12 NIV

Sadly I see a spirit of taking offense and entitlement rising in our nation, perverting the idea of individual liberty (which ought to include individual accountability and responsibility) into narcissism. This  attitude is nothing new,and sadly, it isn’t limited to immature children. Jesus dealt with this attitude among his disciples.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45 NIV

We should take  Jesus’ words very seriously, but can we put the same affirmative spin on this command that I put on cleaning up the lunch tables? Can we live out our lives in the strength, beauty, dignity, honor, commitment, kindness, and courage of  humbled service, knowing how it positively impacts others,  how glad it makes our Father God, and how much  true strength, validation, and outright joy we will find within ourselves when we live our lives with an eager, enthusiastic, “May I please have the rag and spray bottle?” attitude? If it was good enough for Jesus,  theKing of KingsandLord of Lords …. then there is true greatness in  every act of giving, listening, sharing, forgiving, mess-cleaning helping, and walking alongside one another.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23: 9-12 NIV

I know the children  at that school with a high academic reputation were and are not  simply brains to be filled, but lives to positively, affirmingly, enthusiastically shape for a lifetime of real valor, courage, strength, kindness, beauty, dignity, commitment, compassion,and serving.

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A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God,I  admit I’ve looked down on people who work at jobs like ______________________ and I’ve drawn back from_______________________ because I thought it would be yucky,time-consuming,  no fun, someone else’s job, beneath, or __________________. I seen I have missed opportunities to rise to true strength and dignity, integrity, honor, courage,inner beauty,commitment, and compassion,  BUT you never tell me it’s too late or I’ve missed and messed up too much. Awaken me to opportunities to live  my life in Christlike ways. Holy Spirit, what could I to today,this week? Where and for whom could I “leave this home,job, relationship, community, world looking like a man/woman of  those  values was ‘sitting here’?” ______________________________________________________________ Please  remind me to pick up the “broom”  or ask for the “spray bottle” where and when I can, and help me remember that bending and sweeping and wiping and serving lifts me up to the greatest I could possibly be within me, not justified by works, but reflecting the character and powerful love of Jesus.

I AmNot the Ocean

surfer-waveSurfing caught on like crazy when I was a teen, and in sand-locked Arizona, how we all looked forward to a summer trip to the California coast. Surfers still wait on beaches all over the world for the “perfect wave” to ride in to shore, proving their prowess over the waves. I remember singing this song when my two sons were in Cub Scouts:

Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.
Even though the most of them
Do not use suntan lotion.
When they hit the waves too hard
They always cause a motion.
Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.

Um didle iddle iddle um diddle lie,
Um didle iddle iddle um diddle lie,

Because I was afraid to surf
When I was just a lad,
My father took my board away
And told me I was bad.
But when I learned the word
That every surfer knows,
The biggest word you ever heard,
And this is how it goes…

Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.
Even though the most of them
Do not use suntan lotion.
When they hit the waves too hard
They always cause a motion.
Super California surfer, expert on the ocean.

But … what would a surfer be without the ocean?

sand-surfing

Woo-hoo! Shoot the, um, dune. Catch a dune  and you’re sitting on top of the … sand.

What possible spiritual meaning can this have?  To my horror, and very likely to all of our collective horror, I’ve watched our culture become more and more narcissistic, everything  drive by MY desires, MY happiness, MY  needs,  MY wants, MY opinion, MY point of view, MY definition of __________, MY success.

Take another look at the  ocean. For  that matter, take a look at  your big toe. Did you create that? Can you in any way cause your big toe to suddenly change shape, size, or by the mere exercise of your will, color your toenail? Did you create hydrogen and oxygen atoms? Did you create a  large spinning rock with molten iron core, cover it with a crust of  decomposed  rocks called soil, scoop out canyons and seabeds? When’s the last time you gave life to a dead ant, much less make an ant and give it life?

If you (and I) can’t create an atom of  anything out of nothing, create by mere though a single grain of sand, give life to a dead ant or make living ant to begin with, then why do you/I/we  feel so powerful when you/I/we ride a board on a wave? Why do you/I/we feel such a need to assert our own desires, “self-actualization,”  MY will MY way in MY time, and reaching for possessions and earthly “happiness” as TRUTH and RIGHTLY DESERVED RIGHT? Who do you/I/we think you/I/we  are/am?

Genesis 1: 1-5 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1: 13-14 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear [a child,] when I am [so] old?’ Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son”

1 Chronicles 29:11 – Thine, O LORD, [is] the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all [that is] in the heaven and in the earth [is thine]; thine [is] the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.

 

Deuteronomy 32:39
‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

Psalm 18:31
For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God,

Psalm 62:11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,

Isaiah 45: 4-6“For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other,…

Colossians 1:15-18 (speaking of Jesus)   He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.  He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead so that he himself may become first in all things.

Ephesians 1: 18-22 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Someone I cared about deeply said to me, “I know God hates _______, BUT I WANT _______” and to my abject horror, that sounded all too much like the words of someone else  who was handsome and gifted and honored by God until he wanted things his way:

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate:“Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness,who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?” Isaiah 14: 12-17

I couldn’t do a thing to change that person’s heart or mind. I am NOT the ocean.  I can’t create one  molecule of water. Neither can I save anyone’s soul. What I can do, and what I’m called to do (and so are you if you call Jesus your Lord and Savior)  is  ride  the wave of God’s Presence and His Spirit in my life, speak  what He has spoken to me, share all the  good things God has done for me, and show His love, forgiveness, grace, truth, healing power, compassion, and relentlessly giving heart  to as many people as  I possibly can. That will no doubt irritate the heck out of the one who said, “I will…but I’d rather take  a  spill in the ocean of God’s grace and love than try to surf on the sand in  Hell by pressing, pushing, shoving, and demanding my own  will, way, and  honor.

1 Peter 5: 5-7 And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.…

So…Super God, I’m just a  surfer;YOU have made the ocean.
Even though we thump our chests and  make quite a commotion.
Help me ride your waves of love and  show your grace in motion,
Super God,  make me a super servant on your ocean!

 

A “..BUT…” to pray: Oh God, I’ve taken you for granted. I’ve looked and pushed for my own happiness apart from  the joy of simply being yours, I’ve sometimes used others by ________________________________ in order to exalt  or promote myself in ___________________________________. That is wrong, flat-out sin,and I repent of it.  Show me how and where I have offended your sovereignty and will, Father God:_____________________________________________________. Lord Jesus, help me to lift you high above all others in my life, your will above my own. Holy Spirit, open the eyes of my heart and the ears of my spirit to hear  your voice and see your hand in my life. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,(including the enemy of  my soul) for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.(Psalm 143:8-10)

Speak to me, Holy Spirit; I’m listening____________________________________

 

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Little Boxes on the Hillsides

IMG_1135So began an irreverent song in the 60’s, but as I walked back down the hill toward my house in the foothills today, a thought I’d had  earlier in the week driving home struck me again. What are the conversations going on in the minds of the people in these  custom and semi-custom houses? In reality, all they are is boxes.

Unvoiced perhaps, but perhaps subconsciously thought, going up from these boxes: “ My box is bigger than your box… My box sits higher up the hill than your box…. I’m glad my box isn’t down there below the river …My box is full of more stuff, fancier stuff than your box… My box makes me important… My box tells the world who I am and why I’m important…” and perhaps some voices  down below the  river: “I wish I had a bigger box up on the hillside … I deserve a better box than this … .” Surely, and true, many people may be grateful for the boxes they have, that they have a box lid over their  heads, that  they have a place to sit and eat and sleep.

Yet up here on the hillside (and even down below the  river)  nobody asks who the real lien holder on the land is, who holds your hill in his hands, who created the minerals in that mine far in the background, who can call in the loan at any time.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 24:1
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10-11
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Job 41:11 Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.

Nehemiah 9:6
“You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Haggai 2:8 —

” ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

John 1:3

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.“

Colossians 1: 15-17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.…

Walking down this hill that my mind and hand could never make, that no land developer or geologist or  architect or construction engineer could ever create from pre-existing molecules,let  alone from nothing. I bow in holy awe of the One who spoke, “Let there be earth,” shaped these hills, spun the earth to create day and night, gave me cells and DNA and breath and life, because without His Spirit and breath, I’m the same as the sand beneath my shoes.

“Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades! Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all things! And the cry of my heart is to give you praise – from the inside out, Lord, my soul cries out to you… consume me from the inside out.” Be all you are in me,and how totally implausible is that for me to ask of God Almighty? I have no right to ask that, EXCEPT that through Jesus I am adopted into God’s family,called his own,  filled with his Spirit, loved, no matter  what  size or shape box i live in, how it is filled, how empty it may be, or who shares it with me.

And when I stand before Jesus, I wonder, will he ask me how big my box was, how much I had in it, how high on the  hill it sat? Or will he ask me  what I did with the time and the life and resources I had, all that He  gave me, while I was here? Will He ask,”Who did you love? How did you love? To whom did you reach out? To whom did you give a ride to their job? To whom did you give a loaf of bread? Whose child did you clothe? Who did you comfort in their grief? Who did you share me and my love with?”

“‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:38-40 NIV

Jesus speaks a sobering word as I sit in my box and  look out at  the boxes around me down the hill:

Matthew 25:15-29English Standard Version (ESV)

To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I hope, I pray, I have answers for those questions that  will gladden the heart of God.

Lord God, I am eternally grateful for a roof over my head, a place  to sleep, food to eat,clothing to wear, family and friends  to love, and, improbably, for my very life, a  gift from you. Help me to manage all that you give me with love and faithfulness,  out of love for who you are and all you’ve already given: the priceless blood of your son Jesus as a  ransom for my life and soul, my righteousness, my life  forever with you in your house.

Coming home into my box, I fall on my face on the floor in reverent awe of the Holy One who created, differentiated, gave life to, and sustains it all and us all.

 

A”…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, I may not have much in the sense of possessions, or I may have more than enough, BUT no matter what I have or lack, I have YOU as my Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Provision, Father,  Savior, Loving Lord,and that give me  value no one can take  from me. You say I am yours, and that alone makes me ___________________________________________________________________ and I thank you for your Spirit within me! Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Check “OTHER” – GOD is NOT Just a Good Idea!

Today is a replay. Given all the shaking and winds and waves not only in the physical world, but in governments and the political sphere, I  think I need to reiterate this thought. Thank you, Francis Chan,  for nudging me to agree with your message today! First, Francis:

 

I strongly suspect we take God’s mercy lightly. Evidently we think God sent Jesus because we deserved it. Nothing could be further from the truth. We deserved God’s wrath. He sent Jesus because HE is worth/deserved it: God deserves a people who walk in holiness and purity, fully aware of his glory, majesty, holiness, purity, splendor, reality, presence, being, and fully aware of what GRACE means, the price paid for us to come into relationship with him,with his love, BUT aligned with his righteousness. The Blood that HE shed for us is the costliest fluid in the universe, and I need, speaking for myself, to be aware of the value of that Blood.

I picked myself up off the floor this morning long enough to share this with you. I pray God’s manifest presence enters and covers your life, your day, our nation, and the world today, and yes, I have a tiny idea of what that really means and the consequences of what I’m asking: reverential fear, awe and awareness of and reverence for WHO we’ve been “messing and trifling with” to flood our lives, and our personal and corporate realignment and recalibration with HIS Word, HIS will, HIS worship.

Back to the floor ……

The check box “OTHER” has often been my answer of choice on surveys and sometimes on standardized tests when none of the choices or answers seems to fit quite rightly. When I did analogies on IQ tests in school, I could often see relationships between more than one of the answers, and I always wished those tests had a “free response” section so I could elaborate on connections I saw in multiple choices.

“For He is like ….” In writing about the passage in Malachi 2: 17-3:6, John Piper writes:

“He is a refiner’s fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire.”

“God is like …” – I read analogies about God all through the Bible, yet still I sense the need for a check box of “OTHER” when I try to grasp all of the Being of God. Sometimes in frustration I’ve wished I could step out of the skin of my humanity with all the physical limitations of my cells, amino acids and proteins, to truly behold God in all of His Glory and Presence. So far, all I’ve experienced are flashes of God’s Presence that literally made my heart skip beats, shut my mouth to any possible conversation or exclamation, and sometimes dropped me to my face on the floor.

And all those experiences did was make me hunger and long for more of them.

Somehow I sense that I the modern-day American evangelical church we have focused so single-mindedly on God’s grace, mercy and love that we have completely overlooked His Holiness, His “OTHER”-ness.

Deity is not an easy concept to grasp. We know nothing of it in our everyday lives, in the realm of the natural, and until and unless we come into a true relationship with God through receiving his Son Jesus as Savior, the only receptors/detectors we’re equipped with are our five senses, totally inadequate for grasping the HOLY.

Some religions reduce God’s Deity to human terms by claiming God “came down” physically and was sexually intimate with Mary to conceive Jesus. How we try, in our finite understanding, to bring God down to human terms we can grapple with or, worse, elevate our status to godhood! God alone is Deity, God alone is Holy, and it is nothing less than truly supernaturally miraculous that through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, God sanctifies our humanity. He does not make us smaller versions of Himself. God’s Holy Spirit comes into us to make us figuratively sanctified, cleansed and honored just as the cups and utensils in the Tempe were. In effect, God’s Spirit connected with our spirit by a means undetectable to our five senses, but very much felt within us, means God chooses to reside within our hearts and spirits as He did in the Holy of Holies in the Tempe in Jerusalem.

Do I “get it”? No. Do I believe it? Yes. Not me, not by my effort or merit. “OTHER.”

God is not in every tree, but every tree is OF God’s creative power. God is not contained (limited) in me. I am an image-bearer, but the image I carry within me because of my relationship with Jesus is a partial reflection of the character and nature of God, a reflection only of someone outside of myself.

One day, quite innocently and unaware of what an answer would do within me, I asked God to give me his heart for a person I was having trouble “loving.” I cannot humanly explain what happened, but I came into contact somehow with a love deeper, more passionate, more understanding and enduring than I had ever before experienced for another human being. “OTHER” is the only way I can describe the encounter.

Since that day I often see a beauty within people that I know I missed before. This ability did not come from me, generate from some goodness within me. I can only describe it as Holy.

I long to give this experience to others, but I can’t. Only God himself can transform so profoundly. I long for others, for you, to know God’s Presence, his Holiness. Periodically I have to take myself out of the “God is my friend” mentality that is true, but isn’t wide or deep enough to accommodate Deity in my perception., and restore God in my thinking to his Holy, Divine, Majestic place as Deity and the sole right focus of my worship and obedient surrender. I am compelled to not give in to those people who demand or expect me worship them. I can love them, but I can’t worship anyone but God Almighty.

Worship is defined as reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred; adoring reverence or regard. It is both an act and, more importantly, an attitude toward.

Perhaps today it’s time in your life to try to take in, apprehend, or at least acknowledge God’s Holiness, Majesty, Splendor, worth, Divinity, OTHER-ness.

I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20: 3

Which of these titles belongs to you, my fellow human being all too often ensnared by narcissistic, selfish tendencies, desires, and expectations of others?

God is an all-consuming fire, A Refiner’s Fire. A crown of beauty. A Great High Priest. A Jealous God. A Hiding Place.. A Scepter. A Strong Tower. Alpha and Omega. Creator. King of kings. Lord of lords.

Adonai-Jehovah — The Lord our Sovereign

El-Elyon — The Lord Most High

El-Olam — The Everlasting God

El-Shaddai — The God Who is Sufficient for the Needs of His People

Jehovah-Elohim — The Eternal Creator

Jehovah-Jireh — The Lord our Provider

Jehovah-Nissi — The Lord our Banner

Jehovah-Ropheka — The Lord our Healer

Jehovah-Shalom — The Lord our Peace

Jehovah-Tsidkenu — The Lord our Righteousness

Jehovah-Mekaddishkem — The Lord our Sanctifier

Jehovah-Sabaoth — The Lord of Hosts

Jehovah-Shammah — The Lord is Present

Jehovah-Rohi — The Lord our Shepherd

Jehovah-Hoseenu — The Lord our Maker

Jehovah-Eloheenu — The Lord our God

In my emphasis on God’s love and mercy, do I forget God’s Holiness?

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes…. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Deuteronomy 10: 12-20 NIV

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psalms 8:1

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalms 29:2

Psalm 93:1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalms 95:6

Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Psalms 99:5

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4: 21-24 NIV

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6: 1-4 NIV

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.

the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Revelation 4:10-11

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and Earth are filled with Your Glory. Hosanna, hosanna in the highest!

Pray a “…BUT…” to God: Lord God Almighty, I bow before You and I confess and gladly say that You are __________________________________________________ and I am not, BUT because I belong to you and Your Holy Spirit lives in me, I am ____________________________________________________________. I want to experience You more as__________________________________________ and please, God Almighty, make me aware of __________________________________ Help me to live in greater recognition and wonder of _______________________ every day and help me to see You in __________________________________________. Help me to bear your image in this situation where I struggle to live as I know you want me to live __________________________________________________________ You ARE Holy and wholly OTHER, and I ____________________________________. I rejoice in You and Worship You! In Jesus’ name, Amen! Holy Spirit, I’m listening _________________________________________________________

My Father’s Sweater

Spin Me Around the StarsI’m not sure how old I was when I claimed and started wearing my Dad’s old brown cardigan sweater. I think I was around eleven, but I do know I continued to wrap myself in it till I was fifteen. I think I must have felt like I took on something of my father’s nature when I wore his sweater. It was soft with wide, flat ribs and moth holes in the sleeves – definitely not a “Mr. Rogers” sweater, but perfect to wear on chilly nights out in the garage.

That’s where you could find my Dad almost every night: at his workbench repairing something one of us had broken or building something amazing. I thought my Dad was the smartest man on the planet. None of my friends’ fathers sent Morse code messages on a radio or made science-fiction movie sound effects with a home-built Theremin. None of my friends got to watch miniature lightning shows in their garages from a Van Der Graaf Generator!

Somehow I felt secure in that sweater (and in on some great secrets) standing beside my father at his workbench, even when I had to stand on tiptoe to see what he was doing. I still associate the smell of hot solder and freshly sawn wood with Dad and can hear the sound of his table saw ripping through boards on their way to becoming furniture. He built a split-level ranch-style dollhouse for me, complete with a fireplace with hand-carved “bricks”, a chandelier that worked, and real tiny shingles on the roof. Dad went through several very 1960’s phases, too, most of which involved the overpowering (and probably brain chemistry altering) fumes of melting plastic that became bunches of grapes and the clacking, conservation of momentum and energy-demonstrating plastic spheres of a “Newton’s Cradle.”

My father let me help him plane wood, drive nails into odd bits of scrap wood, and sweep up sawdust, all while wearing his old brown sweater. When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad helped me draw out, saw, sand apply sealer to, and wrap with copper wire a walnut hardwood bangle I put on a necklace that looked, very much before its time, very much like the Nike “swoop.” I felt so proud that my father was a builder and creator who guided me to create as I stood beside him, wearing his sweater, at his workbench.

Maybe those hours spent in Dad’s sweater standing at his side account for some of my freedom and desire for intimacy with God, my Heavenly Father. Oh, if I could, I’d love to stand beside my Father God at HIS workbench and see what HE is creating!

Do you know what’s cool? My Father God lets me help with his projects. In fact, he WANTS me to get involved! Those amazingly validating times when I get to speak some word of affirmation to another person or meet someone’s need absolutely delight me, because I sense that I’m standing at my Father’s side and can almost see him smile. What amazes me, though, is what God my Father gives me to wear while I’m at his bench: not an old brown sweater, but the righteousness of Jesus! “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

Today I bought three pair of shoes for the church “Kicks for Kids” fall shoe drive for children in impoverished school districts. On learning I why I was buying the shoes, the clerk at the sporting goods store gave me an extra discount. Knowing my ABBA and what he likes to do in people’s lives, I asked the clerk how I could pray for her, and if she knew Jesus. ”Well, yes… but…” she replied, and then told me she’d ask prayers for her young daughter Sharon with Type 1 Diabetes. Aha! My Father God handed me a ”board” of his word and prayer to sand, and I jumped at the chance to pray for this woman, her daughter and whole family, and share how cherished, chosen and beloved this woman is and how much she means to God. I believe God intended our meeting to do more than put shoes on three children; he also wanted to put his love in the heart of someone who needs to run back to her Father and needs to know he welcomes her.

Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth…. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 2: 14-15; 4:1-2 NIV

How many days, how many times, does God my Father hand me some work from his heart to help him build into the life of another person? Hmm, how many times do I completely miss seeing hammer placed in my hand, the opportunity to work beside my Father in building his Kingdom in hearts and lives?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:6012 NIV

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” Zechariah 4:1-7 NIV

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Mathew 5:13-14 NI

It takes my breath away sometimes when other people see my Father through me! Oh, God, let me stand beside you at your workbench as you create beauty, goodness, honor, kindness, integrity, compassion, truth, love, and living faith in the lives in this world so precious to you. Guide my hands and heart and words and prayers to help you. And wow, thank you that through faith in Jesus I get to wear a garment that looks like YOUR nature! You ARE the smartest Father in existence, and I want to be more like you. Thanks that you invite me to spend time by your side!

A “. . . But . . .” to pray: Oh, ABBA, Daddy, Father, you are incredible! All creation, all wisdom, all power, all authority, all goodness, all truth, all justice, all righteousness, all life comes from your hands that are still building, repairing, restoring, and creating today and every day. I may feel small, untalented, inarticulate, incapable, BUT standing by your side wearing YOUR righteousness, I know you’re calling me to ____________________________________________________ beside you and I know you’ll guide me as I ___________________________________________________. Tap me on the shoulder in my spirit every time you have an opportunity for me to tell someone or show someone how much you love and care for them, and give me the courage to know that, even if my words are simple, limited or halting, or not as fancy as some others might say, and even if I don’t know where in the Bible the words come from, they are still your words sent to strengthen, build up, encourage, correct in love, restore, repair, and create a place for YOUR hands to work in another life. I give you permission to destroy my excuses right now, and here they are ___________________________________________________________Help me to remember it’s YOUR work, not mine, and YOUR Spirit, not mine, truly at work in my encounters with others; you jut need me to open my mouth and open my heart so YOUR words and love can come out. I hope others see YOU in me! In Jesus’ name, amen! Holy Spirit, I‘m listening ___________________________________________________

God is NOT a good idea!

IMG_1401God is not a good idea. I took that thought apart when I helped Dr. Walt Kallestad write a book on understanding the basics of Christian faith. If God were simply an idea, a mental construct, a convenient way of thinking to explain the Universe or the sense of moral order, right and wrong, that exists in most people –at least the emotionally and mentally healthy – then we’re all in big trouble. I think of how many “good ideas” I’ve had that failed, but more terrifying, I think of the “good ideas” men have had over history that have wiped out entire villages and decimated nations. No, if God is only a mental abstraction, then there is no help or hope for any of us, no existence beyond seven or eight decades of getting up every morning, raising children or going to a job, to what end?

I vividly remember taking a shower one Saturday night when I was seventeen, when the thought of a universe without God struck me. The bleak emptiness and total senselessness of a universe, a dark lifeless vacuum, void of God sank me to my knees on the wet tile, my head in my hands. The moment of terror passed, and the next morning I was singing in the choir about the great love that’s ours in Jesus. I worshiped, reaching in my heart with thanks and gratitude that God is very much alive, real, and a Being of indescribable power, love, creative splendor and intimate relationship far beyond any “thing” I can imagine!

We were Methodists, of the traditional John Wesley “heart strangely warmed” variety who acknowledged God’s Spirit as a very real and immanent, personal presence in our lives. Perhaps my love of worship stems from the fact I was born, after a long labor, late on a Sunday morning. My father rang the bell in the steeple of the church in our tiny town every Sunday morning, and that January 22, after a tedious night with my mom in the hospital in the County Seat quite a few miles away, Dad drove back to church, rang the bell, then drove back to the hospital in time for my long-awaited debut.

I recall some of the very traditional liturgy, or form/pattern/ingredients of worship, I grew up hearing in the services every Sunday with a grateful heart that somehow the Responsive Readings, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and weekly singing of the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…”) after the Bible reading and the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”) after the offering never became mindless repetition to me. In fact, I look back on those elements of worship with a warm glow in my heart and do miss them in the Sunday services of the non-denominational church I attend now, where lively and deep praise songs take center stage in worship.

I miss them, but I don’t worship them. I don’t worship the old structure, but at the same time I don’t worship the absence of the ”traditional” structure and presence of “tradition-free” services. I agree with the comment I heard one Sunday that the only difference between a rut and a grave is how far down you dig. God never meant real worship to be a rut or a grave, mindless and heartless routine completing a required ritual, like checking off boxes on a to-do list. I strongly suspect God created worship as a vehicle to carry us right into God’s love for us, the Holy of Holies itself: God’s heart. In true worship my heart meets His and becomes the room, the space for the Holy of Holies. How can I bring an angry, judgmental,selfish thought into That Presence?

I enter the Holy of Holies;I enter through the blood of the Lamb.

I Enter to worship you only; I enter to honor I AM.

Instruments or voice only? Sitting or standing, arms raised or decorously in laps? Oh, please, what’s the difference, if truly loving hearts are encountering the fiery heart of God and praising his love for them? Enjoy the beauty, forget condemnation, and see the splendor in the Lord, not the “faults” in each other’s styles and forms! I need moments of silent, wordless reverent awed awareness down on my knees, and I need  the exultation of laughing and dancing in the midst of unconditional love.

Worship isn’t about what or how; it’s about Whom! I don’t worship a form, style, tradition, or experience; I invite God into my life by running into his presence to be lifted and honored and revered and enjoyed. God inhabits, lives in, the praises of His people, and yes, I dance right in the ”pew’ when I feel overjoyed by my Father God’s love for me. Look away if love disturbs you, or join me in a happy dance if you don’t care what anyone but your Daddy thinks.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33:1-3 NKJV

Worship in its truest and most satisfying is real heart-felt, in the present and Presence praise, recognizing God is God and we are not, God is good, God is real, alive, personal as well as holy, God is here wherever here is, approachable as well as completely lofty and apart, and wants intimate relationship with us, with ME, with YOU! Whether I worship in my own house, worship while I walk the dogs, or worship in a church with others, it’s healing, comforting, depression-countering, en-couraging, and powerful as a weapon of spiritual warfare.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. Psalm 96: 1-9 NKJV

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. Psalm 47: 1-2 NKJV

I don’t cling to tradition and disdain contemporary, but I don’t disdain tradition as irrelevant. There is beauty to find in it all, every expression because our God is beautiful.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100_ 4-5 NIV

Hearts sang with passion when Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World” erupted as radical praise and worship in 1719, and we feel that when we sing it today. I find such freedom in worship, such delight in connecting with God and praising, even when I attend a different church or different denomination. In one church I loved being part of, the arts school affiliated with the church regularly brought dancers, singers, artists and even aerialists to add beauty, awe, wonder, joy and life to our worship. I keep my hands at a respectable height yet raised about mid-body in more conservative churches, raise them high in others, kneel on kneelers in some fellowships, kneel right on the floor in the row of chairs in others when I feel the weight of God’s holiness and goodness, repeat the written prayer along with the priest or pastor and everybody in some churches and offer up my own words along with everyone else after a particularly moving “7-11” contemporary song in others, seven words sung eleven times and nobody gets tired of singing!

Our family spent two months in Beijing, China in 1984, and “church” there meant meeting with Christians from literally all over the world in one of the embassies. The International Fellowship had no pastor that summer, so individuals from the congregation took turns leading worship and giving a message. If one of the Africans was preaching, you could count on being there for two hours. If a European or American spoke, we were likely to be out sharing lunch within an hour. What fun to meet and enjoy being God’s kids together, singing songs that might be unfamiliar, praying silently or out loud, in unison or each in our own words, but recognizing and drawing close to the same Lord, Father, Savior.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3: 7-18 NIV

    htps://youtu.be/ApbdXzhlunc

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. Psalm 92: 1-4 NIV

The truth is that I don’t worship God because I’m required to, or because a narcissistic God demands praise and worship. Honestly, I worship God because I NEED to! I need to connect with the reality and person of God, to encounter His love for me as I reach toward him, some days to dance ”in His arms,” some days curled up in His lap in my wing chair, some days with my feet splashing in a stream, some days flat on my face on the floor in my bedroom, but as often as I can in the company of other Christ Followers, whatever their denomination, tradition, or “flavor,” in the power and joy and reverence of our combined love, gratitude, and communal vision and passionate purposes before our mutual Father God.

To You belongs silence [the submissive wonder of reverence], and [it bursts into] praise in Zion, O God; And to You the vow shall be performed.

O You who hear prayer, To You all mankind comes. Wickedness and guilt prevail against me; Yet as for our transgressions, You forgive them [removing them from Your sight]. Blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near To dwell in Your courts. We will be filled with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. Psalm 65:1-2, 4 AMP

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Palm 42:1-5 NIV

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, help me look inside myself and see if and where I’ve been rigid, mindless, heartless, judgmental, relegating worship to some archaic practice out of touch with today, or decrying the freedom of expression in other churches. Show me where I’ve been judgmental about Believers who enjoy tradition for the richness they feel. Where do I need to re-think worship, Holy Spirit? _____________________________________________________________________I truly want to worship and praise you, God, but some days it’s hard. Some days I feel dry as a bone and no praise can give life to me. BUT on days when I’m dry, and feeling empty, Holy Spirit, come and refresh me. Remind me WHO you are, God, remind me of your love, Jesus, and broaden my vision of praise and worship. I want to be alive in you, God! I know you want that, too, so as I say amen in Jesus’ name, Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and I’m willing to __________________________________________________________________________ as you stir me, whether I think I might look silly or not! Come, Father God in the power of your Presence and let’s together _____________________________________________________________________________

DO do What You Need to Do in Me!

I’m just not the bling and sequined frou-frou kind of girl. I do like to get dressed up, and I enjoy wearing jewelry and perfume, but I’m just not a ruffles and matching purse/matching shoes/matching nail polish/matching bling woman. I’m not even sure I’d feel comfortable doing that if I could afford to (which I can’t). I hear from God in analogies, and while I admire other speakers who get to deliver the pretty boxes with ribbons and bows kinds of messages, God never seems to speak to me through pretty, girlie things. I “hear” him through tent stakes, roller coasters, and cheeseburgers. Nevertheless, I was surprised this morning by what God used to teach me something: picking up after my dog in the side yard.Jengasitstight2

All I intended to do in the yard this morning was take advantage of rain-dampened ground to pull pesky spurge, the bane of my gardening, from the back yard. Weeding is unpleasant enough, but as I crouched down working my way beyond the orange tree, I came to a huge patch of spurge smack in the middle of a field of doggie doo. Aargh! I like dogs, but when our son wanted a pet ten years ago, I voted for a hamster – they only live a couple of years, and they don’t shed all over the house. My husband staunchly vetoed my vote, asserting, “If we’re going to get a pet, it’s only going to be a dog.” This is the man who innocently remarked, “Gosh, honey, I didn’t stop to think you’d be the one home with the dog all day,” when we were housebreaking our adorable Springer Spaniel puppy Katie.

Flash forward through ten years of me brushing, feeding, medicine giving, ear cleaning, ball throwing, bone cooking, daily walking, hair vacuuming, and doo-doo picking up. Yes, our son used to do some of the walking and picking up, but he moved away to college four years ago. Yes, my husband occasionally cleans up the back yard and walks the two dogs (we now have our older son’s dog also) maybe two evenings a week and sometimes on Sunday mornings, and yes, he’s the one who works to buy the dog chow and pay the vet bills, but this morning, as usual, I’m the one whose nose is eighteen inches away from the recycled dog chow covering the back yard, and I’m not happy about it.
Two thoughts, “We could hire someone to do the yard work but no, we can’t afford it,” and my habitual complaint, “Why does it have to be me picking up the poo? He has time in the evenings to do a little bit if he really cared. I’m not the one who wanted a dog!” had only briefly, sarcastically flashed through my miffed mind when, on their heels like Katie after a pigeon, came the thought, “Even if you hired someone to pull the weeds AND pick up the doo-doo, it wouldn’t take care of the real issue. What stinks the most is not the doo-doo in the yard, but your attitude. . . .” I knew that idea didn’t come from me! God patiently humors me a lot, and I recognized his heart in the thought. Hiring someone to clean the yard would still leave me with doo-doo in my heart, and a stinky attitude is not what God wants for me, or what I really want for myself.

“Okay, I’ve tried the positive thinking thing before,” I countered.  “Cleaning up the dog poo is a way to show our son I love him, because he loves the dog. That gets me through three minutes of picking up, maybe. Jesus, I need you to really get hold of my heart in this.” This morning I needed more than just a cheerful veneer, because I want this change to be lasting. I don’t want weekly deposits of resentment in my heart. I want a clean heart more than I want a weed-free, poo-free yard.

God gave me the thought, “Bless your husband as you pick up the poo. Yes, I know you’ve tried before, but this morning make it not just words of dry obedience, but truly bless him.” So I did. As I looked up, I saw opportunity all around for plenty of blessing!  I prayed, “I don’t like what my hands are in right now, but bless the work of his hands today. He works so hard for us. Give him satisfying work to do with his hands, because I know how stressed he feels doing nothing but paperwork. I know I’ve made some stinky choices he has had to ‘pick up.’ This doo-doo reminds me that he hangs in there with me when I’m not so pleasant to deal with.” I honestly felt a shift in my attitude. God moved through my willing-to-change heart. If I bless his hands as mine are doing something I don’t want to do, then this doo-doo can become a springboard (a Springer board?) for God’s healing changes in me.

Can you guess what I heard from my husband that evening?   “I had a great day today!  I actually got to sit in the cockpit and play with the radio.  Maybe next week I’ll get a ride to check things out!” God blessed him even as I was praying.  Retrospectively, that made the doo-doo duty, while not pleasant, even something better: rewarding. I could almost hear the laughter in Heaven. Gosh, God is fun! Why don’t I remember that in the middle of my messes?

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you

to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,

with all humility and gentleness, with patience,

showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent

to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB)

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body,

arm yourselves also with the same attitude,

because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”

1 Peter 4:1 (NIV)

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4: 8-9 ESV

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24 ESV
Has someone else made choices that leave you with doo-doo to deal with?

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying! I’m not promoting co-dependent behavior or cleaning up other people’s messes and removing consequences of poor choices from them. I’m talking about my heart, your heart – how we handle the fallout of choices other people make that impact our lives in burdensome, frustrating, irritating, even painful ways. Society often tells us the answer is to get rid of the doo-dropping person. Sometimes, and in cases of abuse, that is the safe and appropriate thing to do. For most of the messes we deal with, though, that isn’t a good, healthy, or effective solution, and it doesn’t deal with the heart issues that are left behind. Sometimes you can’t change what you have to deal with or get around it: you just have to pick up the doo-doo. But you can choose your attitude, and choose to bless, which can change you as well.

I can’t get rid of our dog Katie; our son would be crushed, and I’d actually miss her, too. As God revealed to me this morning, though, Katie isn’t the critical issue. It’s my heart that matters to him, and thank God it does! My husband and I can work out the clean-up schedule . . . or I can keep blessing him as Katie drops me reminders!

I share my own flawed humanity here in hope and faith with one of you who needs God’s transforming power to turn something stinky in your life into an avenue of blessing and healing for your heart attitude today. I’m confident no women’s ministry director will ever ask me to speak on this topic, so this is the only place you’ll hear it.

Maybe one of these days yet God will give me a message through a pretty box with ribbons, or jewelry, or nail polish?
A “ . . . but . . . ” to move: Father, as much as I want to, I don’t have the persistent commitment in myself to change my stinky attitudes – and I admit that sometimes I don’t even want to. I’m quick to spot the doo-doo from other people’s choices and often blind to the messes in my heart, BUT you are kind enough to both reveal them and set me on the path to healing and peace IN mind. I don’t want to live in denial of what’s going on in my life; I want your sound mind and wholesome, positive attitude in everything and with everyone I deal with, even when those things and people don’t change. Thank you that you DO do in me all it takes to transform _________ and ME into an avenue of blessing!

Your own “ . . . but . . . ” to move: Tender Father, I struggle so with a bad attitude over ___________________________ BUT I trust you, and I know you will help me have a better attitude about ____________________________________________. I give you permission, Holy Spirit, to show me any “stinkin’ thinkin’” in my heart and thoughts, and I ask you to replace them with thoughts of ways I can bless ______________________________________________________________. God, you are the Creator and author of creativity, so I dare to ask you for creativity in my attitudes to create in me a truly clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. I know this is a prayer you’ve been waiting for me to offer up, so I know you will help me! Thank you, and I look forward to the new ideas, attitudes and gratitude you’ll put into my heart through Your Spirit in my spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen! Holy Spirit, I’m listening ___________________________________________________________________________________.

Sea Glass Wars

The Sea Glass War

Rose Jackson © 7/15/2008

sea-glass-2

The rocket attack came from out of the blue. My husband Cliff and I were standing in the long line in front of the auditorium the night of our younger son’s final high school chorus concert, when Chris called on my cell phone to ask if he could borrow some money so a fellow singer who hadn’t had dinner could get something to eat before the show. Phone in hand, I turned to Cliff and explained, “Chris wants to borrow some money to help . . . .” I asked my husband if that would be okay, and he angrily fired off, “He’s your son!” Whoa – where did that come from?

Shell-shocked, I couldn’t imagine what provoked his angry attack or even what his comment meant. I didn’t know we were at war! Our son came out to get the money and told me it was for a good friend from church. “It’s for his friend from church, Anna,” I related to Cliff, thinking an explanation would help, and he snapped, “Don’t tell me that. I don’t need to know!” Two rounds fired! This was no accidental friendly fire shooting! Instantly my defensive shields went up. I felt angry and confused, but I couldn’t lob any verbal grenades back at my husband because the women’s ministry director of our church was standing three people ahead of me. Trapped! I was pinned down, unable to defend myself.

Usually I’d launch a verbal retaliatory strike, or at least set the launch codes and fire later when I had the opportunity. This night, though, I resolved not to return anger for anger. I didn’t want to cause a scene in line or ruin the evening, but I also didn’t think it would be healthy to let the incident go and pretend this conflict never happened. “I’ve responded that way too many times in the past, and it only made me resentful,” I recalled as I took a deep breath. What to do? In an unusual step back from the brink of mutual annihilation, I decided to de-escalate, make a hopefully permanent change,  and quickly resolved to look for a way to deal with the conflict in a way both respectful to my husband and healthy for our relationship. I silently sent a prayer SOS, “Jesus, please tell me how to handle my anger,” and held my fire.

I didn’t say anything when we got home that night, but the next morning I prayed again to discern a positive way to express my feelings while bringing a healthy resolution to the issue for both my husband and me. At the breakfast table I calmly told my husband, “I feel your words last night were intentionally hurtful. Would you speak to people at work the way you did to me?”

“No,” he said, “but I don’t think what I said was hurtful.” Inside I was thinking, “Oh, come on,” but I made a conscious choice and effort to quickly subdue my frustration. “Would you speak to your associates that way?” I repeated. My husband replied that he wouldn’t, because no one at work would speak to him the way I did. Puzzled because I hadn’t said anything nasty to him the night before, but feeling a peace that surely came from God, I replied, “Your comment indicates that you do realize the words were hurtful.” I honestly, simply stated, “I can’t think of anything I said last night to merit those hostile words. Did I miss something?”

I’d presented my case without becoming defensive. What would happen next? Amazingly my husband’s demeanor changed, and he acknowledged that he had been angry and intentionally used those words to drive home the fact. At that point we were able to identify what had actually angered him, discuss the situation, and come to a healthy resolution.

God turned what could have been explosive and damaging into something healthy. Because it was unexpectedly healing, and because I felt enabled to uncharacteristically say something that maintained my dignity while still respecting my husband, to me the encounter was profoundly beautiful. Years ago I wrote an analogy comparing anger to broken glass on a playground, shiny and attractive, but you’d warn your child not to pick it up because, attractive as it looks, broken glass easily cuts anyone who handles it. Anger cuts and wounds relationships. If she or he picked up a piece of broken glass, you’d immediately ask your child to either drop it or carefully hand it to you, so you could take care of it safely and properly. In the analogy, I wrote that the proper thing to do with anger is hand it to Jesus so he can dispose of it safely.

After our “chorus line” battle, though, I realized Jesus did more than just dispose of my anger. When I resolved to respect Cliff and our relationship and placed my anger in his hands, Jesus transformed it into something precious that restored rather than destroyed. Shards of broken anger became beautiful like rounded sea glass, a powerful affirmation to keep choosing my resolution. At www.americancraftworks.com/TheStoryofSeaglass.html I found a description of the process that turns trashed, broken bottles into beautiful sea glass:

“The ocean’s saltwater and sand combined with the various tides act like a giant rock tumbler & (sic) eventually turn sharp broken glass into beautifully rounded frosted jewels that wash up on the shoreline. . . . !”

I handed Jesus the broken glass of my anger and he returned to me healing communication with my husband, something beautiful to be valued and prized like a sea glass gem. That day I changed my reaction and witnessed a battlefield turn into a beach.

Our feelings are our feelings, but we do well to look deeply within and pray to discern the hurt, disappointment, or expectation unmet that pushed a ”hot button. “We all have them hidden inside, hurts, slights, fears and insecurities in childhood that we didn’t know how to process unhealthy ways then. The longer I go through life, them ore broken people I find: people with wounds from an absent or present but controlling and rigidly unloving father, abandonment either emotional or actual from their mother, burying deep inside them the questions, “Will anyone love me for who I am? Do I matter to someone? How can I find the love I need?”

Legitimate needs and questions, but how we express them to others can bring healing or raise up like quills on a porcupine’s back, pushing others away with our angry barbs aimed at them personally, rather than expressing the need we have in clear, positive ways others can respond to.

God has much to say about anger.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 NIV

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. Proverbs 15:18 NIV

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19: 11 NIV

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:1-2 ESV

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16: 32 ESV

 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person… Matthew 15: 18-19 NIV

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil….

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen….Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:26, 29, 31-32 NIV

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[a] with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.,,,

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3: 8-10, 12-13 NIV

 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,[a] and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:1-18, NIV

Please, If you are, or have a loved one with, a deeply entrenched chronic anger issue, please seek professional help for both the angry person and the one(s) living with them. It may be rooted in a deep wound All of us easily speak before we think, and we tend to react, rather than respond, when someone ”pushes our buttons.” My prayer for myself and others is a cry, hands lifted to God, to help me/us do what we instinctively can’t, and bring to the light of His healing the hurts that lead us to speak harshly. What beautiful gems God can make of us when we give our anger to him for his understanding, compassionate, and passionate healing. The wonderful truth is that God WANTS to heal our wounds!

A “…BUT…”to pray: Oh, Loving Father, I do feel angry when __________________________________, and when I do, I know my words can wound like broken glass. You don’t condemn me because I have needs and desires, BUT please help me to see deep inside myself to the root of the emotions that drive me to express my needs and expectations in hurtful ways. Holy Spirit, I open myself to you now and give you permission to show me things you long to heal deep within me _____________________________________________________________________ . People in my life do irritate me, including ______________________________________________________.Help me to respond in Godly, honoring, solution-focused ways when ______________________________ says _____________________________________________________. Put a guard around my mouth, Holy Spirit, and the next time that happens, help me to lift it to your hands to shape my response and turn the broken glass into a beautiful gem. In Jesus’ name, Amen, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________________________________

As Simple as it Gets

As Simple as it Gets

I couldn’t find the bunnies, flowers or rainbows in my circumstances. I was so crushed yesterday, and I recognized my deepest grief is the contradiction between what I know and read of God from the Word – nothing shall be impossible for God – and what I see in the free will He allows us all to walk in, often to the wounding and discouragement of others. What I heard for 18 months was a grand and hideous silence and contradiction. This morning it even hurt too much to let God’s word in and listen to any of my favorite Bible teachers. That contradiction slapped in my face again was more than I could bear.

“When your words came to me, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. . . . Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive (intermittent) brook, like a spring that fails?” Jeremiah 15:16, 18 NIV

So, the question to me on my morning dog walk was simply which side of this razor’s edge I’m going to fall on. Do I believe my circumstances reveal the character of God, or do I believe somehow, against all the grief within me, that God’s character gives meaning to my circumstances? I want with every fiber of my being for God to change my circumstances, BUT . . .

I love, I hope, I’m crushed – I rise in love, I hope, I’m crushed – I crawl back up to my feet in love . . . . I genuinely understand why sometimes people feel death would be easier than this life. BUT . . . it all comes down to the cross, and the cruelty I see Jesus bore for me. He was taunted, and their taunts were true. He COULD have called down legions of angels and taken himself off the cross, but the end of Jesus’ pain would have begun eternal torment for all the rest of us. Real, raw honesty here today, I have come close to despairing of life, just two months before God brought the faint dawn of a new hope into my life. I don’t doubt for a minute that there is someone who will read this and identify exactly with my feelings. Keep reading!

It all comes down to the cross. For love, Jesus emptied himself of all his majesty and rights as Deity and took our betrayal and rejection of him, even my imploring questions now. He loved, he hoped, he was crushed, he rose up in love. What could it have meant to Jesus to be stripped – willingly, but stripped nonetheless – from all that incomprehensible union with pure joy and love and Oneness with the Father? Whatever it meant, it meant winning me.

No, I’m not at all equating myself and my suffering with Jesus. It’s just that now I begin to understand the ferocious depth of his love for me. He IS love. I don’t BEGIN to grasp how much, but I desperately want to soak myself in him.

Words water down the impact of this truth.

Aaugh . . . as much as this still – hurts isn’t strong enough a word – grinds me to dust emotionally, I will not let my circumstances and the horrifying choices someone else is making inform me about the nature and love of my Jesus. Whatever meaning comes out of this in the end, it will be the meaning LOVE incarnate gives to me.

“Come under my wing,” God whispers, and we cry out, “Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you “ Psalm 143:9

“Shelter Me” by Tab Benoit

The earth can shake the sky come down*

The mountains all fall to the ground

But I will fear none of these things

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Dark waters rise and thunder pounds

The wheels of war are going round

And all the walls are crumbling

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Hide me underneath your wings

Hide me deep inside your heart

In your refuge – cover me

The world can shake

But lord I’m making you my hiding place

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! Psalm 32:7-11 NIV

In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues; you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues. Psalm 31: 20 NIV

Why, my soul, are you downcast?Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5 NIV

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5: 1-10 NIV

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” Revelation 7:17 NIV

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . Romans 8:28 . . . . If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8: 31 NIV He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 NIV. . . For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth , . . . nor anything can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:38-39 NIV

A “,,,BUT…” to pray: Sometimes God, and it might be right now, it feels like the whole world is against me because ____________________________________________________________________________. I tried to _________________________________ but __________________________________. BUT God, help me remember hat YOU are greater than the world, and if YOU are for me, then you must have a plan to bring something good out of _________________________________________________________________. Show me where you are, Father, and Jesus, help me truly feel in my deepest heart how much you love me. I never asked you about your feelings on the cross. Jesus, what did you feel? Can my love for you bring you joy? It CAN! Then I trust you enough o give you ______________________________________________________ and let you work something good from ___________________________________________________. I have to “hand it to you,” so I will, by a choice of faith. What do you want to tell me today? Amen in Jesus’ name, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening ________________________________________________________________________________________